As a Fulbright student, who obtained J1 visa in United States. There is more than just study for me. I want to know more about the culture of the place I live in, Dallas. And what is the best way to know the culture other than being immersed in it and talk to the people here.
In my campus, UTD, there is a program from International Office that brought together the international student and the US student, it is called as iFriend. At first, I thought the program was dedicated for US student to host and talk with an international student so I didn’t apply. At the last semester, I knew that its for both international and American student.
So I tried it out. I came to the mixer, and the host remind us to be open minded, since culture could be different and its the very reason to held the event, to make understanding both from international student and American student.
I was really lucky, my iFriend is a energetic girl with same interest as me: Japan anime and Korean drama. We instantly giggles and well, fangirls are the best friend I could ask for.
We are required by the event to meet up each week, to talk about.. Anything. Introducing US culture and tell about my home country, Indonesian culture. I think its a good programme since it allows me to ask about the things that I find peculiar about US (but I hesitate to ask or I just don’t know to whom should I ask or if I wonder if its polite to ask about things). Thankfully, all people that were more than happy to answer my questions, its a good thing to ask and be curious in US. Everything is open for discussion (which I found very enjoyable). However in the program, I can ask about everything in more detail. Things that maybe American see usual, such as where is the best taco place, their opinion about living together, about American jokes that I don’t understand; understanding American culture by how they think. Like I asked my friend why in Texas its ok to own gun (this is not a polite question and not publicly ok to ask), or why its legal to sell drugs in some states. I learned the reason and try to see the point of view. In turn they ask me about islam, Indonesia, are moslem terrorist, or what is hijab. I hope I gave the answer that answer their question, however still my knowledge is limited. But one thing for sure, I really felt that I was too nervous and stiff, so I learn to be more casual and relaxed. Nobody’s stranger, just unknown friend waits to be known.
It not only important to give them good impression of Indonesia and Islam, as I represent both in US but also the truth, because not all thing are good some are bad, like in any place on earth. There are good facts and bad facts about my country, such as that most of use are multi languange speaker, and the rich tradition (more than 700 tribes and languangea, we should be proud of that, Indonesian) and also bad things such as the chaos and riots in Indonesia. It is kind of difficult for me to explain about Islam, with the media coverage like the current one but well i do what I can, be the best version of myself everyday (hopefully).
Overall I think iFriend program is very helpful for me, because the program filled with people with the conciouaness to share their culture and readiness to new culture, like minded people. I hope it could bridge more understanding between us (me and my friend), as friend, crossing the culture, religion and nationality.